Day 18 of the 187th Generation

I was alone. George and Collin were at a meeting, the first of the season. All the other Protectors were probably celebrating one night of peace and quiet since all their trainers were in the meeting. Even Tessa, the overachiever this year, relished a trainer-free night. 

But I stood on my mat, terrified to move. 

I stared at the backdoor to the gym. 

I told George I would clean it up, but I couldn’t go in there. 

His vomit mixed with traces of blood were on the floor.

 I had helped George out of the room, where he had stayed, bent in pain for minutes. He gave himself a nearly unsafe amount of painkillers, cleaned up, and went to the meeting. 

I had only asked him one thing, while trying to help him off the floor, “Why would you do this to yourself?”

He had responded, “I could ask you the same thing. I’m going to do this. I can do this.”

I didn’t ask him anymore questions. I got him a change of clothes, I covered for him by texting Sam what he told me to say, and then I told him I’d clean up the room as he headed out of the Circle with Collin.

I shifted slightly, making my one shoulder roll a bit. 

I had found sparing with Collin to be more unpredictable than I thought. He had a distinct style of fighting, and just when I thought I had won, he would find a way out of my hold or away from my kick and jab or kick, make contact, and I would be down on the mat. 

I closed my eyes again, trying to get the courage to go back into the bathroom. 

I’d rather have been in the Republic, being stalked by a Sentry, then staring at this bathroom door. 

I breathed again, angry that all that meditating earlier couldn’t help now. 

I tried again, fighting for a moment of peace and clarity.

Instead, guilt rushed in. 

And the guilt felt familiar, yet harsh. As if someone had opened up a wound where my scar had been. 

And my own voice in the empty room broke the silence, accusing me. 

“It’s your fault,” I told myself. “It’s only your fault.”

George would be down in medical right now. He was pushing himself to continue to be my trainer. If I wasn’t training for a repeat year, he could take time off and heal. 

He felt obligated to keep me safe. He even brought Collin into the Circle, to help me survive another year, even though that might expose him.

I took a step towards the bathroom, only to stop again. 

All this pain, I thought, it was all my fault. He was only doing this to keep me safe. 

But he shouldn’t be. I would be fine. I was strong enough. I could be stronger. 

I was about to try to take a step towards the bathroom when I heard a knock. 

And then another. 

I quickly moved, almost defensively wanting to get rid of anyone who wanted to enter the Circle. 

It was Tessa. 

“Hello, I thought you might be in the gym,” she said confidently, almost like we were best friends. 

She wasn’t in my Circle yet and was probably nervous to ask. I could quickly deflect. 

“Actually, I need some air. And George told me to go for a run after I was done. You’re good for another mile today, I’m sure.”

She nodded, almost excited. “I’d love that.”

I slid on my shoes, and jumped out of the circle, tying them and saying, “Sorry, I don’t let many people in my Circle, but don’t take it personally.”

“You’re a legend, Brie. I don’t take anything personally,” she said, then almost looked embarrassed. 

“I’m not a legend,” I said, thinking of the mess I was trying to hide from myself and from everyone else. 

We started. She ran at a decent pace, keeping up with me well. 

“You will be a legend,” she said, after the first stretch. “By the end of the year.”

“You might be, too, if all the stats don’t lie,” I said. “You’re HistCulture scores and Tech scores are amazing.”

“Thanks. I didn’t know you noticed,” she said. “To be honest, I was hoping to ask you a few questions, but I didn’t want to seem…”

She hesitated, but I finished. “Needy?”

“Even with all the training, I can’t imagine being ready in four weeks. I can’t. The more I learn, the more I’m afraid there’s more to learn that I don’t know and that I’m going to mess up. And I don’t want to mess up.”

I shook my head, having to take a breath to answer, “I know the feeling.”

“But you never messed up,” she said. 

“That’s a nice fairy tale. Who told you that one?” I said, instantly putting up my guard. I didn’t know how much Avery had shared with her. 

“I’m sure you made some, but with those numbers, and your success rate, and your strength and your skill sheet tests, you couldn’t have made a lot.”

I kept running. She couldn’t possibly know how her words were torturing me. I simply asked, “What if you were wrong? That I made some mistakes, and some missions went horribly wrong?”

She looked ahead, keeping up a pace even I could barely keep. “I’m not dumb enough to think I won’t make mistakes. But I want to make as little as possible. But with everyone telling me I’m doing great, I’m not sure how I’m going to improve.”

“How do you mean?” I asked. 

“Well, if you’re weak in an area, people tell you how to get better. I’ve been doing so good at certain things, people aren’t telling me where I’m weak. They aren’t warning me what to avoid. If I had a weak muscle, I wouldn’t want to hear that I shouldn’t worry about it. I’d want to make it stronger. Does that make sense?”

I took a few more breaths, “Yes, it does. More than you know.”

She looked over at me a few times, finally slowing down as we approached the courtyard again. 

“If you ever want to go for another run, let me know,” I said, genuinely appreciative for the chance to detach, but also relieved the run was over. 

“Sure,” she said. “Thanks.”

She walked away awkwardly, stretching her arm across her body to cool down. 

“And Tessa?” I called after her. She turned quickly, sharp and composed despite our last sprint. 

I asked, “You’ll get stronger. You’ll find a way. Don’t worry.”

She turned on her heel and went away, leaving me slowly walking back into my Circle. 

I walked back into the gym. 

And I stared back at the door. 

I had proven many things in this gym. I was stronger than George or Collin could have ever thought. 

But I couldn’t walk across the room. I was supposed to be strong, but I couldn’t clean up vomit.

Strength couldn’t defeat fear.

I couldn’t punch my way out of this. 

I could beat myself up training my body- give myself bruises and strain muscles- but if I ever made the mistakes I did with Heather, I’d never forgive myself. And I felt like I was messing up all over again. 

I thought about Caleigh’s mother or anyone else I had let down. I thought of Caleigh in my arms, and wanting to kill whoever betrayed her mother. I thought of every day of my life, never able to know what being a mother felt like and wanting to kill whoever put the Serum in our water.

That was why I couldn’t think clearly or remember what was important. Collin was right.

My weak muscle was my mind. And I needed to control it.

Almost eerily on que, Collin had messaged me. 

“Are you punching a bag? Or doing what you need to do?”

I stared at the message. 

I needed his advice more than I thought. 

That annoyed me, but it meant I should listen to him. Just like he had said earlier, I inhaled a breath quickly, and then exhaled very slowly. 

I closed my eyes.

And I strained my memory, until every moment that George had ever trained me came flooding into my mind, playing like a movie. I didn’t think about my fear, I thought about George trying to save me, George on his missions when I was here, George joking with Joel in the Hand, George going over HistCulture lessons with me… my teacher, coach, and much more of a brother I’d ever be able to admit. 

My eyes snapped open. And I walked to the bathroom. 

I didn’t need fear. I needed to know what was at stake and how much I didn’t want to lose it.

And why I wouldn’t let him down.

I had changed my mind. Meditating was good. My mental clarity had never been stronger.

Meditating was good… but sparing was still my favorite.

“Block,” Collin yelled.

He kicked, then turned to get two jabs in.

“Better,” Collin said, lowering his hand from blocking his face.

I moved forward to punch, in a vulnerable moment. 

But it backfired. He ducked, pulling my hand in as he pushed my leg out, knocking me to my stomach. 

I tried to catch my breath from leaving my lungs, but it was knocked out of me, leaving it difficult to breathe. 

“Turn. Get on your back to get oxygen quicker,” he said, helping me roll.

He wasn’t standing over me, ready to lecture me. 

Which is what a trainer should be doing. 

“What? No lectures still?” I finally spoke. “Tell me how I messed up. That’s the third time you’ve floored me today.”

Collin shook his head. “No, because this is a lesson you aren’t ready to learn.”

I got up, my muscles tense.

“Try me,” I said, throwing in a jab that hit air. 

He took a breath, looked like he was about to speak, and then didn’t. 

“Let me guess, it comes with meditating and a philosophy lesson?” I asked.

I wanted him to get angry and just spit it out. I should’ve known it wouldn’t work. 

He put his hands back up over his face. 


We sparred again. He did another unexpected move. I went in for the last kick, sure it would be his first moment of weakness that I would exploit. 

And I was back on the mat again. 

“Okay,” I said, still breathing in the mat and hating the feel of it on my skin. “I have mat burn. Do I get to know the secret of why you keep beating me today or not?”

“I’m not sure. Are you ready to meditate and get a philosophy lesson?”

I wanted to hit him again, but as I couldn’t seem to do that, I didn’t have a choice. 

I sat up, but stayed on the mat, peeling off my gloves. I crossed my legs, giving him an icy glare. But then I closed my eyes. 

I said, “There. Happy?”

“I suppose so,” Collin said. I heard him sit across from me. “But let me ask… why do you want to win?”

I sighed. “I really don’t want to lose. Is that a reason?”

I listened, not afraid of the silence and genuinely wanting to hear what he said next. 

“You need to lose, Brie. That’s the problem. You want to win so hard, you’re jumping at the first opportunity,” he said. 

I opened my eyes. He stayed calm, on the mat, looking at me knowingly.


I was about to argue. I looked up at him, confused. He smiled, as if he was anticipating that as he repeated, “Lose. Lose to win.”

I stood up now, shifted my hip over to rest my hand on it. “That wouldn’t work. That kind of technique of fighting wouldn’t be effective. Not against a Sentry or an officer. Not against a—”

“Trainer?” he asked, looking a little more confident than normal. “No, not at all,” he said sarcastically.

I dropped my arm, looking at him more intensely. I put on my gloves again as he started putting his gloves on again.

“You’re acting brave, but you’re actually afraid,” he said. “Your fear forces you to make your first move- the move you think will give you the advantage- and then I know what to do. I’m counting on you taking the first strike. If I’m a Sentry, I know you’ll be panicked, scared, and jumpy. I’ll win every time. Because I’m counting on your fear and anger. And today, as your trainer, I am counting on your need to win… only it’s making you lose. And I know you enough, Brie. You’re angry and you’re afraid…”

He took a jab, then another. I barely blocked in time, taking a step back, barely balancing. My eyes stayed on his, but then finally shifted to the side. 

“I just don’t know why,” he whispered.

“Well, I’m angry that you are probably right,” I shot back. “Does that count?”

He shrugged. “I’ll take that. What about something you’re afraid of?”

I bit my tongue but answered honestly. “I think that list is a little too long.”

“Fair enough,” he said. He moved into fighting position, nodded his head. I put my gloves up. 

He put his hands in a defensive position. He punched twice, one simple kick. I blocked all three. 

He was vulnerable for one second. I didn’t take the chance to punch. I stayed back.

He nodded. “Good,” he whispered. I waited, ready for the next blow. 

But when he spoke next, I didn’t expect his next blow to be with words.

“Why don’t we start with George.”

“What about George?” I said, trying not to sound overly defensive. 

“Something’s wrong,” he said, taking three shots with his arm, which I blocked easily. “His log isn’t right sometimes. He’s cramping. He’s not going on climbs with me anymore.”

“Maybe he doesn’t want to be psychoanalyzed,” I said, pulling to one side and trying to punch his back ribs. I got one jab in before he blocked. 

He winced, coughing out once before breathing again. “Thanks for not kicking,” he said casually, grunting in pain. “But no. It’s not the same. And I knew it would be a little different with him as my boss, but he’s not acting like himself, his energy is down, even Emily—”

“We’re getting into Emily now?” I said, one more jab. 

He dropped his blocking glove and grabbed my wrist, turning it, and forcing me to spin around quickly, turning with him, moving my elbow to jab it into his ribs. 

“Nice try. You diverted. But I should’ve known not to bring Emily into this,” he whispered. I pulled away, looking back at him briefly as he finished. “What’s going on?” 

I didn’t answer. I hit three times, and he blocked with the pads, only to drop his arm again, like he did the last time. 

“Don’t be afraid to lose,” he whispered.

I was panting, for not that much of a workout. Every muscle constricted. I wanted to kick him before he could talk again. 

But I didn’t. 

I wouldn’t win. 

I put down my arm, but kept it tense beneath me, circling around him, tilting my on shoulder down and crouching lower to the ground. 

He took the shot and lunged, wrapping his arms around me, only I knelt deeper, and by the time he grabbed me, I had turned. I shifted his weight as he grabbed me. He rolled over me, and I moved to the side as he fell. He landed hard, my back on his chest.

I jumped out of his grip and turned to face him. 

I heard the exhale, and then the hollow air sounds as he gasped for air. 

I looked back at him, pinning him to the ground with my knee on his upper shoulder. 

I should have felt a sense of accomplishment, or at least a tinge of victory. But I didn’t. 

Because he whispered. 

“See? It worked. Lose… for just one second,” he said, out of breath. “Lose to win.” 

I sighed, still hovering over him, so knowing I could whisper. 

“George is sick,” I said. “And I don’t know what it is. I don’t know if it’s cancer or an ulcer or something else.” I paused for a moment. “I’m covering for him because he wants to keep serving. He doesn’t want anyone to know.”

Collin closed his eyes, swallowing slowly, still catching his breath. When he opened his eyes, they were unfocused, as if trying to put the pieces together. “How is he getting meds to fight something as severe as an ulcer if—”

He looked at me, his blue eyes sharpening on me, curiously but not accusing. 

“You’re his doctor.”

“I’m trying to be,” I said, standing up and offering Collin an arm. He took it, I pulled him up. 

“What are his other symptoms?”

“Vomiting, with blood. He’s cramping, severe fatigue. Among others. I’ve ruled out viruses.”

“Where is he now?” Collin said, pulling off one of his gloves. “It says he’s sparring with you, on your schedule… but I’m obviously doing that, and your schedule has him—”

“He’s in medical. I gave him an IV with acetaminophen—”

“Not ibuprofen?”

“I know it’s stronger, but if it’s an ulcer—”

Collin interrupted again. “Good call. Ibuprofen wouldn’t work- it would cause complications. And so would something stronger.”

He looked lost in thought, like trying to think of a better option, but then he looked back at his watch. 

“Well, that would explain why your schedule says—”

Collin was staring at his watch when he froze. He stopped breathing. 

“What’s up?”

“Hannah,” he said. “I just got a message from Joel. You just got scheduled for an emergency meeting with Hannah. In… five minutes. Change and get ready, I’ll open all the doors—”

Collin looked over to medical.

“Is George asleep?”

“Yes,” I blurted. “I put him under, and it would take at least ten minutes to wake him. Help me. Change the itinerary or do something—”

“I can’t do that,” Collin said. “George has codes, and it’s Hannah. No one changes her itinerary but her.”

He dashed over to the table, grabbed his MCU, and closed the door to medical. He turned back to me quickly. “Brie?”

His voice sounded scared, as if he wasn’t sure that he wanted to say what he was about to say.

“No, you can’t!” I shouted, “You can’t tell her! You wouldn’t—”

“I didn’t think it was this bad,” Collin said.

“I know,” I said, realizing that none of the consequences that I would face for hiding this would be anywhere near what he would face. 

“I’d be fired, Brie. I’d be done. I can’t hide something like this from Hannah,” he insisted, his voice lower even though Hannah was still at least three minutes away.

“I know,” I said, “But I need you to lie—”

“She’s coming,” he whispered. “I can see her in peripherals. Take a shot.”

I punched on the left and he blocked.

“Now… show me again, Brie. Do the same thing we just did,” he said.

I took a breath. 

Collin hadn’t told me what he would tell Hannah. 

We repeated the maneuver from earlier. I dropped my arm across me, turned, then jumped back, pinning him under me on the mat. 

He was winded again, gasping for breath, but he could speak. 

“Now it’s my turn. I’ll lose. Brie, get Hannah out of here.”

There was slow clap from behind us. 

“Excellent strategy,” Hannah said. “It’s almost ingenious, like setting a trap.”

“Ma’am,” I said, looking surprised. “I didn’t expect —”

“Ma’am, I’m so sorry,” Collin said, “I saw the memo a few minutes ago and thought we would be done.”

“You’re fine,” she said, her sharp black eyes on me. Her stance changed as she took a breath. “I got to see her in action. Learning new tricks?”

“Yeah. And George wanted to give me a chance to have my butt kicked,” Collin said, standing up. 

“Where is George? I was going to ask him if I could borrow the first Protector for a minute.”

Collin didn’t even break stride. He didn’t pause. 

“Well, you can guess whose butt she kicked first,” Collin said. “He’s in medical now, but I can clear her. He’s probably just icing his wounds and wishing she didn’t go for the ribs all the time.”

Hannah laughed, looked at medical, but then nodded to me. “She goes for the ribs a lot. Clear her schedule for noon as well, Collin. And Collin?”

“Yes, ma’am?” he said, looking up from his MCU.

“Thank you for adjusting to her style of training. I was half afraid to come in and see her meditating.”

“Yes, ma’am,” he said . He moved to walk next to me as Hannah walked out of my Circle.

“Keep her talking,” Collin whispered. “Take the coffee. Trust me. Practice.”

I nodded, following Hannah, hating that he had me doing this stupid exercise now.

I walked toward the door as Collin stayed in the center of my Circle, but I turned back for a moment. I saw him dash for medical.

I took a few more steps out to join Hannah.

“You were right. He’s different,” I said, walking in step with her now. “He beat me three times today. I had to learn how to do that last move.”

“I know,” she said. “He has a more strategic way of fighting. It’s more effective for Sentries and in a few other instances.”

“But I know the basics. They aren’t enough anymore,” I said, almost truthfully. “I need to learn what I don’t know if I’m going to get any better. And that’s not in a manual.”

Hannah smiled. “That’s an illuminating thought,” she said, her long black hair not even shifting as she turned to face me in one fluid motion, stopping me immediately in my stride.

Hannah looked at me curiously, and then at the coffee cup in my hand. 

“Oh, sorry, I forgot I had it,” staring at my coffee. 

Hannah didn’t look upset, but calculating. 

“It felt like I was walking around the Republic. You were just so casual holding it…”

She turned back to my Circle, where Collin was missing.

“He’s having you practice that, isn’t he?”

I smiled. “And it’s black.”

“Oh, that’s cruel,” she said, laughing. “You are right, as usual. You can’t learn everything from a manual. But then again,” she said, walking with long strides again, “That’s why I’m here.”

I waited, knowing to never prompt her to talk. I needed to stretch this conversation longer. 

“I thought I was cleared to skip group lessons,” I said, “But if you’re saying—”

“Quite the contrary. I have a problem with the 2nd Protector. Tessa excels, but she needs guidance that’s not in a manual, either. She’s not being challenged by group lessons and advances in every subject. She needs wisdom from case files, some of which aren’t shared. She is ready for something new, and I’d like you to find time to chat with her.”

I paused, taking a sip of coffee. Maybe my reaction to the taste, however subtle, would hide my confusion. 

“I thought Protectors don’t mentor other Protector’s. That’s the trainer’s job. And she has Avery.”

She sighed. “Your situation is unique. Usually, Protectors don’t have as much experience as you. By next year, I’d love you sharing some of your stories in group classes.”

I hated being in public with all the Protectors, especially when Professors or Instructors were watching, but Hannah wanted respect. So I didn’t argue, but I also didn’t agree.

Finally, after ten silent steps, I had my solution.

“I’ll make you a deal,” I said, terrified that she would remind me I had no authority to ask for a deal. “I’ll talk to Tessa once a week if you lay off Collin a bit and let him train me in physical training, tech, and HistCulture. You don’t like him, and I don’t know why. He is different, but I’m bored of the same lessons, too.”

Hannah looked at me, her brown eyes resting on me as her jaw shifted. She nodded. “It’s a deal if you can drink the coffee as if you were there as an Elite.”

I took a sip of the coffee, then dropped my arm flat against my hip, holding only the lid of the cup and leaving my fingertips barely on the edge of the lid, raising only my pointer finger.

“Deal,” she said, nodding back to my circle. She said, “Don’t misunderstand. I don’t question Collin’s commitment. At all, as a matter of fact. I admire it more than anyone’s. But Collin came to the wrong conclusion to fix a problem that didn’t exist. You are the proof that this is working. Our focus will continue to shift to physical combat. We’ve been saying it for years, but maybe by training you, he’ll learn.”

I had caught that in the center of my Circle, there was no movement. I needed to keep her talking. 

“Learn what?” I said, keeping my voice neutral. 

She sighed, turning back to me for a moment. 

“He keeps on looking for a reason ‘why’ to a question no one is asking. Questions slow people down. Maybe you can teach him how to train a soldier, not a saint.”

I lifted my eyebrow, trying to hear if there were any voices or movement in my Circle. 

“I’ll try my best.”

“You always do,” Hannah reached out her hand, and uncharacteristically, her eyes almost looked warm.

She turned away, talking to her assistant again as we continued to walk together. Then she kept speaking to me, but I barely heard her words. She was repeating something about the Tuesday night meeting and how that would be a good time for Tessa and I to meet. She was saying how proud she was of me for seeing things from her point of few. She said something about Zander still praising my defensive attack on a police officer in my last mission.

But I was only half listening, because we were walking through the door of my Circle. The med room door was open. 

George wasn’t on the table. 

I turned. 

They were both in the fitness room. 

George was holding the punching bag and Collin was punching. They were playing their part. Collin pretended to laugh at something George had said. 

Hannah said, “Well, I won’t take any more of your time, or those two will spar next. I’ll tell Avery that you’re on for this Tuesday. Tell Collin he’s cleared to train you in more areas. Tell George to change his itinerary and focus on Collin’s evals.”

She turned and left, already responding so something on her MCU and phone, which was being held by her assistant. 

I ran to the physical training room. Collin was still punching the bag, but George was looking weak, like he was holding it to remain standing. 

“She’s gone. She’s not coming back in. Her assistant looks too stressed.”

Collin pulled up instantly. George sighed and leaned more on the bag, looking nauseous. 

Collin whispered, “Thank God for that. I was waiting for the right time to start. I thought I was going to be hitting too long and George would fall over.”

“George,” I said, looking behind me again, despite promising that the coast was clear. “How do you feel?”

He shook his head. “Like the punching bag,” he said, while smiling, but he looked unstable. Collin reached out to hold George’s forearm and elbow, stabilizing him.

“I’ve got you,” Collin said, then looked to me. “It took him three minutes just to wake him up. He was barely talking while we moved in here, and now he won’t stop.”

“Collin, I’m so sorry I didn’t tell—”

“No,” Collin said, holding George’s forearm and squeezing his hand. “You don’t get to apologize if I’ve already let it go, and I promise, I have. What did Hannah want?” Collin asked, turning to me, maybe thinking it was an excellent diversion.

I put my hand on George’s forehead. “She wanted me to talk to Tessa. She said Tessa is not being challenged, and she wants me to train with her or talk to her, give her some advice.”

“I thought there were rules, like Protector’s don’t mentor. That’s what a trainer does,” Collin said.

“Yeah, like you care about the rules,” George said, nearly laughing before he clutched his side with his other arm. I reached out for it, now mirroring Collin, holding George up by bracing his forearm and elbow so he could lean on me. 

Collin said. “Please,” talking to George like I never could, “Please just go downstairs. You’ll give the doctors something to do. They’re bored to death and all they ever do is deliver babies. Maybe they’d like to take out a spleen or two or treat cancer.”

George was looking like he was about to argue, but then smiled. “Nice try. Collin, you don’t understand. And it’s hard to explain the dynamics of what is happening, but Hannah—”

He winced again, but his eyes now looked warning at me. 

“I caught that,” I said. My eyes were still glued on George, but I said, “Collin, Hannah doesn’t trust you enough. Not yet. Once I come back from a few missions, it’ll be obvious I don’t need another trainer, and you can stay. But if George went down to medical now—”

“She’d assign you to someone else,” Collin finished. 

George shot me a warning look, but I said his name.

“Avery. She’d assign me to Avery,” I whispered. 

“She’s already suggesting that you hang out with his Protector and she really wanted Avery to be your trainer,” George said. “She wants you stronger and faster… and she wants to get you back. When you had the willingness to do anything, without regretting it,” George said. He took a long breath, as if he had been running. 

I looked at Collin, wondering how much he knew or how much he could discern, but George added quickly. “Oh, Collin knows Sir Avery. The worst of him, I assure you. The very worst.”

“Why?” I asked. 

But Collin’s jaw set. George looked at him expectedly, as if hoping he would keep speaking… 

Collin said, “We’re not talking about that.”

George turned back to me. “If Avery was your trainer, he could mess with your head.”

“How could he mess with your head, even if…”

He trailed off, looking at me, but I already set my eyes in determination. If Avery was my trainer, he’d have access to all my medical records and could manipulate my anger even more.

I warned George by whispering, “We’re not talking about that.”

George winced again. “Perfect. I’m keeping both your secrets.”

He closed his eyes. He whispered he was tired. Collin kicked a few pads from behind him under us. George melted to the floor, falling asleep. Collin checked his pulse and nodded.

Collin and I sat, watching George sleep for a moment.

“I don’t deserve his loyalty,” he said finally.

“I don’t either,” I said, feeling a familiar guilt. “It makes me feel horrible.”

Collin lowered his head. “Don’t go there, Brie. He wants to keep you safe. I mean… while we’re training you to infiltrate a country, commit treason and a bunch of other life-threatening activities.”

I smiled, despite not wanting to.

“We need to earn his loyalty, Brie,” Collin started. “He’s stronger than we know.”

I moved to the corner of the room, getting a blanket. I placed it over his shoulders as he shivered once.

“He once told me something, Collin,” I said. “And now it’s my turn to tell him. I’m afraid, in the end, you’ll be the strongest person in the world.  But I’d never wish that much pain on you.”